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BULBS!

I can’t tell you how many questions I’ve had over the last week about bulbs.  The most prevalent one is, “When can I plant my bulbs?”.  The next is, “If I can’t plant them yet, how do I store them?” 100_0120

Maybe we should start by defining a “bulb”.  The University of Illinois Extension Service defines it this way:  “The definition of a bulb is any plant that stores its complete life cycle in an underground storage structure.”  I have made the link above, because it defines and explains a “bulb” pretty thoroughly!

For our purposes here today, I will only discuss a “true” bulb, like a tulip, daffodil, crocus, etc.  Rhizomes, corms and tubers are also considered “bulbs”, but we will not discuss them today.

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-8-26-56-amHere is a drawing of a true bulb that I have taken from that University of Illinois Extension Service web site.  It’s a good description of what we are talking about.  The definition of “tunicate” bulb is one that has a paper like sheath that helps protect it.

As you can see, the leaves, the flower bud, the roots, and even the babies (lateral bulblets) are all there…right in that one structure, as noted in the definition!

It also does a good job of showing you what’s up and what’s down!  The pointy end is the top and the flat end is the bottom.  It isn’t always that the roots are visible yet, but have no fear, they will appear!

Miraculously, if you should happen to plant the bulb upside down, given a few years, it will actually right itself.  That’s hard work, so try to avoid doing that to your bulbs.  You want it’s energy to go into the blooms!!!

When you buy bulbs, you want to look for ones without deep cuts in the tunic.  Those cuts would indicate some pretty severe injury that might impact the growth of the bulb.  It might even produce rot, meaning that your bulb wouldn’t survive in the ground.  Look for a healthy bulb…think of an onion in the grocery store.  I’m sure, like me, you look for onions without soft spots, discoloration and scars.  Do the same with the purchase of bulbs.

Usually nurseries don’t offer bulbs for sale until it’s time for planting, so get them in the ground as soon after you purchase them as possible.  If that’s not possible, store them in the package in which they arrived, or in a paper bag (that breathes), in a cool, dry environment.  Something to remember here is that squirrels, rats, and mice LOVE chomping on bulbs (except for daffodils which they seem to  dislike).  If you “mail order” bulbs, they will always arrive at the proper planting time.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, autumn is warmer than in many areas of the country.  That kind of confuses the element of the timing of planting bulbs.  Where there’s a hard frost, it’s easy, bulbs can be planted right up until you can’t get a shovel into the ground because it’s too hard to dig!  So, how do we handle that here in the PNW?

Remember that when the bulbs go into the ground, they need to establish some growth of those roots.  They need some warmth for that…BUT, you don’t want to plant them when it’s so warm that the leaves will sprout.  Then they may try to bloom in the fall and come spring, when you want to see them…they will already have done their thing.  Sorry, no bloom!  So, your timing should be to plant before threat of a hard frost (when temperatures drop into the 20’s and stay there for a couple of hours), but after any hot weather, which might encourage a growth spurt.  For us, here at Horizon House in downtown Seattle, Washington, that would be about now.  You can hold off a bit if you’d like, but when you’ve got an hour or two free, any time now will be OK.

I think I’ve answered the most pressing questions about bulbs.

I did it!  I jumped for a “garden” here at Horizon House! Actually, it’s a plot that cannot be gardened in the usual sense.  It has roots from a Japanese Maple that we like a lot.  We don’t want to cut out the roots, as we’d lose the tree!  Drucilla, who had that plot, was moved to a place where she could actually dig.  Now, what to do with that useless plot???

Just cover it with mulch?  Why not place some pots there?

We had just cleaned up the three (3) decks so they could be resurfaced, which meant that all the pots sitting on those decks had to be removed.  There was ample time for folks to claim their pots.  I didn’t really want to buy new pots, when all those unclaimed pots were just sitting in the storage room.  So I picked out a few, and pressed them into service!img_5586

Betty had a pot that she was not going to be able to use.  It had some geraniums in it.  I asked if I could use it in my “new garden”.  She consented.  At first I was going to remove the geraniums, but then decided to keep them.  I would lay that container on it’s side, and put the two other pots around it.

Charlie and August helped me bimg_5590y moving heavy pots, and filling them with wonderful new soil.  I trimmed back the geraniums and am hoping they will reach for the sun and begin to grow in that direction.  They will hopefully provide some color.  I planted drought resistant plants (mostly succulents) in all three pots.  I’m hoping they will require very little care, and after they settle in, should look pretty nice!img_5593

What requirements does a plant have to have in order to be considered “drought tolerant”?

It’s interesting because sometimes you can tell a drought tolerant plant by just looking at it.  Maybe the leaves are almost nonexistent, as in an evergreen with it’s oh, so narrow leaves (needles).  Some evergreens also have a pine-359845__180waxy substance that helps keep the moisture from being lost.

You’ll notice that there are plants, like silver sage, whose leaves are covered with tiny little hairs.  Those hairs grasp moisture and hold onto it.  sageOr how about plants with very deep root systems?  They dig deep to  find moisture well below the surface of the soil.  Or on the opposite side of the spectrum, those plants with roots very close to the surface to grab all the barest of rain drops.

Generally, plants that are native to dryer climates like the Mediterranean, the American West, central Asia, and southern Africa will do quite well.  A number of our herbs, used in Italian cooking are from that area and hence do well in drought condition gardens.  Think about Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano and Sage.

But, there are other things to remember about drought tolerance. 37350208-old-garden-scoop-on-root-and-soil-of-flowers-top-view Even a drought tolerant plant needs to have plenty of water as it is planted and trying to establish itself.  Do not ignore any newly placed plant.  Those little rootlets will dry out very quickly, and stunt, or kill your plant.  Keep any new plant well hydrated until it’s well established.  Also, we have to remember that although the plants are drought TOLERANT, that doesn’t say they are able to live through extended periods of severe drought.  If that happens, even the most drought tolerant of plants will need a little drink.  Here is a site that will help you deal with an extended period of drought.

These plants should have well drained, and organic rich soil.  img_5553This is a wonderful advantage we have here at Horizon House.  We have raised beds, with wonderful, rich soil and good drainage (especially after our new drainage systems have been installed).

One of the most important things you can do to support your plants is to provide as much mulch as possible.  It will keep the ground cool and hold that moisture in.  It will also reduce the number of weeds that will compete for water.  In our garden beds, weeds are not a huge problem, but it is worth thinking about.

Our drip irrigation system is wonderful.  It provides water to the roots, rather than to the air where it dries out too quickly.  It also is activated in the early morning, which is the very best time, as the heat of the day(which might dry it out) has not been reached as yet.

Here’s a connection to my old blog (North Country Maturing Gardener) from New Hampshire that talks about Xeriscaping or the use of drought tolerant landscaping.  It talks about many of the ideas we are dealing with here today.

Oh, it was fun!  There were 16 of us who went to shop for plants today.

Because of the construction on the West Wing, our gardens were declared “off limits” and many were dug up, resurfaced, and put back together.  Many plants were lost or decimated beyond help.

As you can see by these photos, the deck is looking very clean and uncluttered.  The gardens are BEGINNING to look much better.  There will be lots more color once the new plants are in the ground.  The gardeners are chomping at the bit to get their new plants in the ground.

Horizon House will replace all our lost plant materials, but I felt that the gardeners deserved a little “lift”, a little reward for their patience…and something to brighten up their gardens and their spirits.  So, I applied for an “in house”  GEM Grant for them.  It was successful, and today we went to spend that money on fun plants.  It was a way for gardeners who don’t have cars to get to a nursery, and for others on the committee to shop, or just enjoy a day at Molbak’s.  We all relaxed after our purchases were made by having lunch at their cafe.

Our plants were packed on the bus, and distributed to our gardens on our return by Jenny, our ever faithful driver!

Most of us are familiar with the Version 2geranium, which is formally named “Pelargonium”.   These geraniums are considered a hardy perennial, biennial or sometimes an annual, medicinal herb.  The herb is often used for aromatic oil.  (I have a hard time believing that, as I find their odor slightly offensive.)  But, that is not my purpose here today.

Today, I want to talk about the geranium with which most of us are familiar.  It is a very popular potted plant, usually associated with bright red, white or pink flowers.

In northern climes, they are considered to be an annual, although they can easily be overwintered, out of the ground.  Here in Seattle, our climate is temperate enough that they survive quite nicely in the garden. At Horizon House we can see them flowering happily, not just in garden beds, but on our balconies.

Audrey was having a few issues with yellowing leaves on her geraniums.  The plants seemed healthy otherwise, and she just removed the leaves.  That’s exactly what she should do.  Remember however, that this is a very drought tolerant plant.  It likes to be a bit dry, so over-watering can overwhelm it pretty quickly.  If the leaves on your geranium are yellowing, hold off on the water a bit.

Also, it could be that it is needing a little fertilizer.  Remember in your home-owner days when you fed your grass fertilizer high in nitrogen???  (The first number on the fertilizer bag.)  That fertilizer (nitrogen) is what kept the grass GREEN!  So, look for a fertilizer that has more nitrogen than other nutrients.  Maybe 10-5-5 or something like that.  The first number should be the highest.  Do not get too rambunctious with that fertilizer.  Less is probably better!  Here’s a link from Clemson University that tells you more than you’d probably ever want to know about fertilizers.  But you might find it interesting!  And it might just help your geranium!

We are very lucky here at Horizon House.  We have 37 raised beds for ourIMG_2327 residents to garden.  There are other gardening beds around the facility that are cared for by our Garden Committee, including in Supported Living, where residents that are wheelchair bound, or hindered by dementia,  can go to relax and enjoy the benefits of a garden.  Bees, butterflies,  and hummingbirds flourish right here in the middle of Seattle drawn by the lure of our gardens!

WhaIMG_2314t is special about a Raised Bed for gardening?  There are mostly benefits, and very few downsides.  The only one I can really think of is that sometimes they dry out a bit more rapidly than a normal,  ground garden, but we have drip irrigation in most of our gardens, so that is not an issue for us.

The benefits however are MANY!

  • They are reachable, with little bending…maybe a bit of leaning occasionally, but it’s easier to lean than bend!
  • There are fewer weeds!  And when they appear, they are easy to manage.
  • All the wonderful odors of the garden are at nose level, or closer anyway!
  • And how about those who are visually impaired?  The flowers are easier to see!
  • Because they are of reasonable size, all care is easier.
  • You NEVER have to get on your knees!  Or get up!
  • They are wheelchair, and walker accessible.
  • Almost all  of our beds here at Horizon House have drip irrigation installed.
  • Our decks are clutter free, and orderly making it easier to work and enjoy.

Our gardeners are a cooperative group and love sharing their gardens wimg_2444ith other residents and visitors.  During the  Summer months we have “Sunny Mondays” when all residents are invited to bring their favorite beverage and a snack to share and enjoy the gardens and each others company.

Gardening is good for the body and the soul.  Our raised beds make that a real part of life here.  You ought to try it!

I had a question from Marilyn, one of our gardeners here at Horizon House.img_3631  Her question was:

“Have you considered giving us your thoughts on what “gardening” means for you irrespective of you physical contact with plants, soil, and digging.”

That’s interesting.  No longer do I get my fingers in the dirt (or very rarely).  So, how can I consider myself a “gardener”?

Once I became a Master Gardener, I immediately began to help folks less knowledgeable than I, with their gardening questions.  At that time I was still gardening A LOT!  But, I manned a gardening Hot Line.  It was fun and I learned a ton more that way.  I looked up MANY questions, because I just didn’t know the answers.  I have learned that I will NEVER know enough!  Not only that, it changes!

I wrote a monthly gardening column in the Wethersfield Post, in Connecticut  where we lived at the time.  When we moved to New Hampshire, in 1992, I started writing a gardening blog  and have been doing that ever since.

I began to teach gardening courses for ILEAD (Institute for Lifelong Education At Dartmouth) in New Hampshire.  (ILEAD has now joined OSHER.)

Finally, I wrote a book entitled: “A Year in My New England Garden”.  It is for gardeners Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 11.29.58 AMeverywhere.  It has a gardening calendar, as well as fun gardening vignettes, that I accumulated over all those years of blogging and gardening.

So, I would have to say that my gardening is now a venture in helping gardeners everywhere.  Here at Horizon House, I have taken on the responsibility of Chair of the Gardening Committee, which has it’s challenges, but I truly enjoy…because I am still helping gardeners!

I hope that answered your question Marilyn!

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